With 69.9 million voters in 2016, millennials represented the majority of the national electorate for the first time in history. With that kind of power, it is incredible to think what millennials could do, but the fact remains that this generation still has not realized its full political potential thanks to bureaucracy and it is a shame.

As the ones on the frontlines facing chronic economic issues like crushing student debt and substandard living wages head on, it is crucial that millennials are represented in government. As technology continues to influence all sectors of our daily lives, it has become clear that modernizing and streamlining the voter registration process in Hawaii is essential.

In 2016, Hawaii continued to hold the dishonorable distinction of having lowest voter turnout rate in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, with only 43 percent of eligible voters actually going to the polls. The point of democracy is to represent the will of the people, but if no one participates, government inherently becomes an undemocratic institution.

Voters wait for the chance to cast their ballots at the Manoa Elementary School polling place in November 2014. And yet, our turnout rates are abysmal. Brian Tseng/Civil Beat

Legislators must prioritize remedying this problem, and historically they have given it a decent effort with the introduction of progressive measures like Automatic Voter Registration and Voting by Mail. The same ideas have come around again this year and the state of Hawaii now stands at a critical crossroads.

Will our government fail to take action, thus continuing to perpetuate Hawaii’s dismal voter turnout? Or will our elected officials finally take a principled stand and support progressive voter reform? Millennials are watching.

Although the largest, most significant voting bloc, many millennials are still unable to go to the polls. The problem lies with the fact that young voters lack the time and get lost in the procedure when it comes time to register.

With stressful jobs and busy class schedules, it is difficult to prioritize voting in person, but we don’t deserve to lose our political power to the process. By reducing barriers to voting and by increasing convenience and accessibility, voting would become inclusive and thus more representative of Hawaii.

The solutions to our political dilemma are crystal clear. AVR, already implemented in other states, has proven to be a simple solution that benefits places with low turnout. Unlike the current opt-out system in place, AVR would automatically register potential voters in Hawaii when interacting with government agencies.

The Oregon Trail

Voters would need to opt-out of registration, instead of opting in. This benefits everyone, not just millennials, but it is interesting to note that in Oregon, where AVR was utilized for the 2016 election, more than 100,000 millennials became newly registered voters. Oregon, a state that once had an average millennial turnout rate, now leads the nation through its progressive standard of a 50 percent millennial voter turnout rate.

VBM, also a favored voting reform in Oregon, would remove the extra application process for absentee voting and make mail in voting the standard option for all. Since implementing VBM, Oregon touts itself as having the most convenient voting system in the country.

Millennials must play an essential role in leading our state through common sense reforms on all fronts.

Like in Oregon, AVR and VBM would simplify the processes for registering and then casting a vote for thousands of millennials, allowing these citizens to have a voice in their democracy.

Through rigorous renewable energy goals and immigration policy, Hawaii has proven to be a state that values progress. Yet progress cannot continue if Hawaii’s next generation is not included in the democratic process.

As the largest voting electorate, millennials must play an essential role in leading our state through common sense reforms on all fronts — which is why I am using my voice here and now to say these modern democratic ideals Hawaii upholds can only be supported through the representation of the people. It is through reforms like AVR, VBM and increased voter participation that a modern democratic vision is possible.

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About the Author

  • Jae Yun Ham
    Born and raised in Honolulu, Jae Yun Ham is a freshman at Amherst College in Massachusetts where he is planning to double major in political science and biology. He is a advocate for government accountability and has previously worked with organizations such as Common Cause Hawaii to support voter registration reform.